Releasing an album for free in an attempt to hook potential fans in is hardly a new concept, but as technology continues to cheapen whilst still managing to increase in quality (thank you Moore's Law) it's fair to say that the ever capricious musical landscape is pretty crowded. We're not here to discuss the pros and cons of accessibility though, but to celebrate the people that managed to rise above their peers to create something special, and were generous enough to share that gift with us for free (or had the business sense to play the long game).

We trawled our music database to bring you our ten favourite free albums/mixtapes from the past 12 months, and we're pretty confident you're going to find something here to enjoy. It's not going to cost you anything to find out either, so what have you got to lose?

Expect mysterious musicians, teenage rappers and an album you probably shouldn't send to your mum (at least not with the original cover).

The 405

Supreme Cuts & Haleek Maul - Chrome Lips

Haleek Maul is a sixteen-year-old rapper, we've all read the tirelessly regurgitated press release, but his relative youth is in no way his defining feature. There's no news-worth in declaring that musicians are getting younger (with Will Smith and his demon spawn only partially to blame), what sets Haleek apart is that his music doesn't act as a constant reminder that he can't legally purchase his own PBR - there's not a "fuck school!" sentiment or ode to Justin Bieber in sight.

Chrome Lips is the rapper's second project of 2012, following from his Merok Records-released Oxyconteen EP, which boasted production from the likes of The-Drum, King Britt, and Supreme Cuts. It was the latter which birthed the EP's standout track 'Gully', and cried out for a larger scale collaboration between Haleek and the Chi-town duo. Thankfully this came only two months later in the form of the 16-track Chrome Lips mixtape, made available as a free download through Mishka and Dovecote Records.

Where Oxyconteen hinted at the rapper's brooding nature, the presence of which left you feeling mildly unsettled, Chrome Lips plunges you considerably further into the depths of paranoia. Backed by dark, haunting instrumentals, Haleek makes references to sex and suicide with the astuteness of someone twice his age. The subject matter may seem disconcerting considering his youth, but at the end of the day, what's more depressing than being a teenager? - Jazz Atkin

You can download the mixtape by clicking here.

Death Grips - NO LOVE DEEP WEB

It would be easy to talk about the explicit album art. It would be easy to talk about the way it was self-released for free. It would be easy to talk about the fact that this album ultimatley lead to the band's release from Epic (an artist to label matching that never made any sense in the first place). No, the real issue to concentrate on should always be that No Love Deep Web is just further proof that Death Grips are one of the acts that made 2012.

From Zach Hill's manic drumming to MC Ride's 'down and out on speed' vocals, the album is 45 minutes of energy. A much more inward look at, on the whole, Ride's own personality than The Money Store, it is never an easy listen, but is a listen that is well worth the effort. - Tim Brown

You can download the mixtape by clicking here.

Action Bronson – Blue Chips

When listening to Action Bronson for the very first time the predominate thought that seems to manifest itself in a hip-hop fan's brain is "are you sure I'm not listening to GhostFace?" Not "this guy is funny as fuck", "this flow is tight" or even "How does he rap about food so well!?" Although Bronson's voice does contain a phenomenal similarity to the Wu Clan Member, that is where the similarity ends. Action Bronson has his own identifiable personality and wit, which is never more prominent that on his latest release Blue Chips.

Unlike Dr Lecter, which showcased Bronson's promising, but ultimately lacklustre attempt to recreate New York Rap, Blue Chips reaches for higher, funnier, and more intriguing territory, illustrated by its street dramas and sharp wit. - Sam Willis

You can download the mixtape by clicking here.

Clams Casino – Instrumental Mixtape II

The dramatic shift from bedroom beat maker to one of the most in demand producers around was a quick one for Clams Casino following his first instrumental mix tape last year. This follow-up continued the rapid progress; a weird, warped and futuristic collection of some of the most recognised and familiar beats of the past year, for artists such as The Weeknd, A$AP Rocky, Mac Miller and Lil’ B. Stripped back these atmospheric, mysterious, ethereal beats highlighted what we already knew that Clams Casino is an incredibly talented producer, but furthermore he is just as accomplished when stepping out of the shadows. - Alex Walker

You can download the mixtape by clicking here.

Captain Murphy - Duality

Before Captain Murphy revealed that he was in fact Flying Lotus in a hood all along, he released the fascinating Duality mixtape (later followed up with a deluxe version featuring individual tracks). Sampling Street Fighter, The Simpsons and pretty much every other popular culture reference you can think of, Duality managed to match the excitement surrounding his mysterious arrival. The 35 odd minutes of experimentation brings a smile to anybody who listens, with its mix of aforementioned samples and simple rap tones. Stellar production from TNGHT, Jermemiah Jae, Madlib and of course FlyLo himself helps too. - Tim Brown

You can download the mixtape by clicking here.


For an album mostly filled with piano heavy covers of 'classic' songs, BBNG2 is a surprising, unique and refreshing listen. While the tunes behind songs such as 'You Made Me Realise' and 'CYMK' may be familiar, the manner in which BADBADNOTGOOD treat their material is anything but. The songs are packed with furious noise, but there is a beautiful, tender core behind all of the chaos. BADBADNOTGOOD make instrumental music that feels very soulful and alive, and I haven't heard anything else quite like it all year. - Daniel Offen

You can download the mixtape by clicking here.

Hodgy Beats - Untitled EP

Untitled it may have been, but this EP from Odd Future man Hodgy Beats is surely his best work to date. After continually disappointing Mellowhype releases, perhaps the most generic member of the Odd Future crew came into his own somewhat here. It's debatable as to whether the absence of cohort Left Brain on production is the reason for Hodgy Beats' new found maturity, but the production on the EP comes from some of the biggest and brightest producers around, Flying Lotus and The Alchemist most notably. People who have grown tired of the gimmicks and boisterousness of Odd Future may find something slightly more sophisticated here. Untitled is a promising sign of progression for Hodgy Beats, with an improved, more relaxed flow and a better choice of producers.

You can download the mixtape by clicking here.

Domo Genesis x Alchemist - No Idols

One of our favourite mixtapes of 2012 has to be No Idols. It's fronted by Odd Future's local pot-head Domo Genesis, and produced by the proficient west-coast veteran Alchemist. The tape - which features verses from Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, SpaceGhostPurrp, Action Bronson, Prodigy, Vince Staples, Freddy Gibbs and Smoke DZA - is Domo's third solo project away from OF and exhibits his growing rap flow and advances in lyrical content (in which smoking weed takes a back seat). The increased ability of Genesis, plus the impressive verses from his OFWGKTA clan members and fellow rappers, is rounded off with sparkling production from Alchemist, givingNo Idols a new dimension and setting itself apart from other OF solo projects. - Sam Willis

You can download the mixtape by clicking here.

Freddie Gibbs - Baby Face Killa

Despite numerous delays, Freddie Gibbs' latest mixtape Baby Face Killa is packed with enough with hooks, raw agression and purple haze to add weight to the "good things come to those who wait" adage.

The 18-track mixtape is a celebration of the Indiana rapper's unwavering dedication to doing things his own way, rather than pandering to label pressure, which is incredible when you consider the obvious commercial appeal of tracks like 'Money, Clothes, Hoes' and 'Bout It Bout It' (easily two of the catchiest rap songs of 2012). Throw the likes of Young Jeezy, Curren$y, SpaceGhostPurrp, Jay Rock, Kadakiss and DJ Fresh into the mix(tape) and we're presented with one hell of a listen.

You can download the mixtape by clicking here.

Joey Bada$$ - 1999

The Brooklyn young gun had a great advantage with his debut mixtape thanks to production credits from MF DOOM and the late, great J Dilla, but these aren't the only talking points of 1999. With chilled out, nostalgic beats and largely feel-good subject matter, it's a real pleasure to listen to and exudes relaxed, summer vibes throughout. Highlights include the single 'World Domination' (featuring some input from Pinky & The Brain), and the moody bass of 'Hardknock' in which Joey declares "I want the gold chains and the diamond rings but I just can't live my life like this."

Despite only being 17 when 1999 came out this summer, Joey's lyrics are deep and filled with ambition, meaning this record deservedly requires repeat listens. - Luke Allen

You can download the mixtape by clicking here.